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A great man

My Dad passed away on November 7th following a short and fairly unexpected battle with cancer.  We had his funeral on Friday the 14th and though we’re all sad that he’s gone, everyone’s been saying that they thought it was a beautiful and celebratory service for a generous and warm man, and it’s only a shame that he couldn’t be there to see it – if the tribute speeches hadn’t made him well up with emotion, then the fact that around 300 of his family, friends and colleagues squeezed into the room to be part of the ceremony surely would have.

Along with my aunt & uncle, 2 of Dad’s best mates, and his financial adviser, I was asked to say a few words for him and several people have requested a transcript.

We have the entire audio recording of the service, so if anyone who wasn’t able to make it would like to listen to it please get in contact with me and I’ll give you the download links.

wbls_bullscanteenBill Standing

4th July 1946 – 7th November 2014

Dad’s illness came as a shock to us all: I was sitting at home in Bristol on October 17th when I got a text message saying that he had something he needed to tell me.

Here we are now, 4 weeks later with Dad gone and us reflecting on his life, and my question to myself preparing this was: How well did you know Bill?

It’s a tough question, because though I’d looked around at him my whole life it wasn’t until the last moments that I think I really saw him. It was quite challenging given his oftimes obstreperous nature, but in writing this I’ve learned a great deal – both new, and old.

The relationship between fathers and sons is one of the great frontiers of modern psychology. Though you’d never describe Dad & I as being particularly close, we both felt a very strong emotional bond. I moved to England 10 years ago and we’d generally talk on the phone about once every 6 months – with the dialogue usually sounding like something from a Samuel Beckett play. Dad always wore his emotions on his sleeve, and every time I came back to visit Adelaide from the UK when it came time for me to board the plane home he’d hug me and well up with tears. We used to rib him because he also burst into tears at the end of watching The Karate Kid on video, too. However when he told me about his cancer I cried for about 3 hours, and came back to be with him & Mum as quickly as I could.

In talking with family & friends in the last few days it became clear to me that one of the reasons for our disconnect was that though born in the Baby Boom, his values were very much those of his parents’ generation. Family comes first, and provide for the future. He was very devoted to his family – both immediate, and extended. A devoted husband, and very devoted to his mother, our granny, Winifred. Being Poppa to Harper in later years was his absolute pride and joy. He was the brother of Michael and Vikki, brother in law to Bob, uncle to Simon, Monique, Bianca, Jenny, Aaron, Leanne, Sharon and Natalie, and cousin to a network of cousins so vast that there’s no way we could name them all. But yes – Family comes first. Provide for the future.

His values were often glaringly different to what his peers had moved on to, which made him quite the enigma.

As a son you like to feel like you’re making your own way, striking your own path – though he never told me directly, Mum said that he was very proud of Tim & I for forging our own ways forward.

At the age of 22 when I had my first software development job I came home one night and he sat me down at the dining room table with a piece of paper and imperiously demanded I tell him how much I was earning. I defensively made up a number and he started drawing out a chart – “Right, so after tax that’s about this much, so you need to put away $X in voluntary super contributions, and private health insurance will be about $Y, and then you need to save this much a week…”, and having just found the buzz of my first ever salary and seeing it disappearing before my eyes I shouted “What in the hell for?!”, and he looked at me confusedly and said, “To provide for your retirement!”. I said, “Great! So I’ll live in the lap of luxury provided I don’t starve to death by the age of 25!”.

He was a very decent man – honest, trustworthy, driven by integrity, and followed the rules to a tee (much to the amusement and frustration of some of his contemporaries). That seems like something one might easily gloss over – however as a role model for growing lads I think it’s put us in good stead.

As we’ve heard and know, Dad was a chap interested and engaged with the world and people around him, and as well as a lengthy career teaching Tech Studies he was also heavily involved in the Sturt and the Bridgewater Bulls Baseball clubs, the parents committee up at Torrens Park Scout Group and also Netherby Kindergarten & Unley Swimming Club, he played cornet in a band for a time, played and umpired football, played golf, lawn bowls, ten pin bowling, worked part time at Mitre 10, and helped run the Technology Teachers’ Association and the Pedal Prix.

Quite a busy guy, and so sometimes my main awareness of what he was doing when he wasn’t thundering down the corridor at our place to issue instructions to us or flicking the bathroom lightswitch on and off to signal that he’d decided we’d been in the shower long enough was from hearing stories from various mates I’d met through Scouting who’d been taught by him: “Ah, is Mr Standing your DAD?”. Cue the inevitable story.

To this day when someone greets me, “Good morning Mr Standing”, I reflexively correct them – “No, that’s my Dad’s name”.

Dad retired from teaching at the age of 58 ½. There had been a staff session at the end of that year with an educational psychologist, who had told them how you had to relate to the kids and behave more like them in order to get them to engage and learn. Dad put his hand up and said, “What about teaching them values? Are you telling me I can’t teach them the values, manners and conduct that my parents passed on to me?”. He packed up, left all his teaching references and materials at the school, came home and said “The teaching’s gone.”. And retired, able now to enjoy the life he’d worked so hard for.

So what have I learned about my Dad over the last few weeks?

It’s fair to say that he was always conscious of a bargain. I hate to think what effect his passing will have on Cheap as Chips at Mitcham will have on their bottom line. Mum said that they very nearly didn’t get engaged as a result of Dad’s thriftiness – she wanted him to get a pair of fitted black trousers from Fletcher Jones for their engagement party, and exasperated he said “But I can get THREE pairs for the price of those!”. Mum said “If you don’t go in there and get a proper pair of trousers, we’re not getting engaged”. So we’re all glad she won that round.

Dad also had a penchant for bright colours and for hats: something which seems to have made its way down my branch of the DNA. Tying these 2 things together, I can’t help think he’d be envious of my outfit today, not only for its obvious visual appeal but also because I got it for 50% off at Harris Scarfe.

In the short piece I wrote for Facebook to announce Dad’s passing, I mentioned that he was a man with 4 sheds – to me that’s very important. In trying to make some sense of life in a world without Bill Standing I stood in shed 2 and looked around and realized that everything in there was a work in progress, an artifact of a past endeavor, or to be repurposed or put to use at some future point. There are things out there that the knowledge of how to use has been lost to the thoughts and ken of mortal men.

In your home you display the things that you think are important. Dad’s office was in Shed 1: it could’ve been in the house but he preferred the shed. Whether it was for space, for proximity to the fridge, or the solitude we’re not entirely sure but if ever there was an archetype for the bloke and his shed, it was Dad.

If you look around that office, you won’t find an ego wall. You see photos of family and friends, his certificate from the Premier for service to the Pedal Prix, and his nomination for Australian of the Year in 2009. It wasn’t important to him whether he won – but it meant the world that someone had nominated him.

If you come and visit the Standing Ranch, take a look around and let it sink in – Bill did nearly all of that. He helped build the extension on the back of the house, and built the carport (both of which are still as structurally sound as they were the day they were put up). He designed, planted and maintained the gardens through a variety of incarnations and was an avid fruit & vegetable cultivator. He looked after the lawns, and then when he couldn’t be bothered mowing the entire thing he built the fence across the back yard so he didn’t have to look at it. He built most of the furniture in the house, from the telephone stand made of Burmese Teak that he’d reclaimed from an old milk churn in Byron Bay, to the beautiful rolltop desk he made at trade school. He installed carpet, dried fruit, had a small business making denim aprons to sell to high schools, fashioned things from metal (he won 1st prize at the Royal Adelaide Show for the silver tea set he made), he’d develop & print photographs, and he maintained and ran a seemingly never ending fleet of cars.

If you’re prepared to accept the idea that there’s such a thing as a renaissance that’s non-cultural, Dad truly was a genuine Renaissance Man.

One of his best friends who may be in the room said, “Bill wasn’t a bloke interested in cultural sophistication”. That’s not to say he was a complete philistine. He loved music from all parts of the spectrum (albeit nothing GOOD like Beatles or Led Zeppelin that we were interested as reappropriating as teenagers – what 14 year old can impress their schoolmates with the collected works of Neil Diamond?). Folk, rock, classical, jazz… He got very shirty with me when as a 16 year old I nicked a couple of the cassettes from the 32 piece copy he’d acquired of the recording of Beethoven’s Symphonies by Karl Bohm and the Berlin Philharmonic – not that he ever appeared to listen to them.

He professed to being a huge fan of Charles Dickens, and in the early 1970s bought the splendidly bound collected works in green you see in the top cupboard at our place. Last year when Mum & Dad came to visit me we discussed seeing some Dickens stuff in London, and he said “I’m looking forward to starting reading some of those now that I’m retired”. Dad had been retired 9 years at this point.

So I mentioned the devotion he had to his family – which very much covered current relatives, but genealogy was very much a passion too. He’d done extensive and active research into both his side of the family (Boehms and O’Connors), and Mum’s family (Walls). He had an almost tangible appreciation for the history of it all.

During Mum and Dad’s visit to Europe and the UK last year Dad experienced an absolute life highlight: travelling to the Menin Gate in Ypres (memorial of the first World War) to see Great Uncle Herman’s name on the honour roll. You can see in that picture the pride, excitement and joy he felt in being able to do that. In his trip diary it says “7th of October: BIG DAY TODAY!”. He told me with pride in his eyes, “I’m only the second person to have gone and seen that.”


Also on that trip they travelled up to a place just outside Liverpool called Wallasey to visit the house where Mum’s father lived and was born – a pilgrimage of sorts. I got a phonecall at work that afternoon from Dad, saying “Do you have a copy of your Grandfather’s birth certificate to hand? We’ve found the street, but we didn’t write down what number”. I’m baffled by the idea that you’d travel to the other side of the planet with singularity of purpose and not write down where it was you were meant to be headed. Anyway Dad knocked on the door of the place started talking to the woman who lived there, and were put in touch with an old lady round the corner who was a local historian, and spent the afternoon getting a wonderful bit of context and detail to the story. In hindsight, I’m very glad that I had a copy of the birth certificate stored online, and didn’t just make up a random house number.

Dad would happily talk to anyone and everyone – if he didn’t immediately know him, he’d generally win them around. “Hello, you’re so and so aren’t you? Or are you related to them?”. If they weren’t, then the discussion would soon go somewhere. Or in Europe it’d be “Is that an Australian accent? Where are you from?”. For someone who didn’t think he had any friends we were constantly amazed (and often bored as small children) at how long it would take us to get through Rundle Mall on a Friday night as Dad randomly ran into people from past or present and stopped to talk to all of them.

Another very important time in Dad’s life was the cruise to Fiji they went on in April 2013. They visited some schools on the island, and Dad had read that you could take money or things to donate to make their lives easier, so he rolled up with great bags full of pens and other stationery – collected from endless conferences and functions.

On the boat Dad would also stay up late listening to the musicians & talking with them, and befriended Waisale – a young man working on the cruise ship. Mum & Dad have more or less adopted Waisale as a son, and were delighted to fly him to Australia for Christmas, and gave him a guitar, a laptop, and a tablet. Make sure you’ve got your tissues ready, because to go with the slideshow in a minute we’ve got a song about Dad that Waisale’s recorded, and I’ve heard it 10 times so far and I think I’m down about 6 litres of salt water so far.

Mum & Dad also took 3 days to look around Fiji and went to another resort, and befriended Tonga: a barman at the resort. It was a hard life, and Dad was very proud to be able to help him out with minimal inconvenience to himself, but A$50 and it’d paid his childrens’ schoolfees.

So we now have extended family in Fiji as well.

Speaking of Fiji, I don’t know how many people know but Dad’s got a fountain named after him there. At the resort he was walking along playing Angry Birds or something, and managed to walk & fall face-first in the fountain – phone floating listlessly across the surface. Mum phoned the resort to ask something and said “Hello, this is Robyn Standing – you might not remember us, but my husband Bill and I stayed there, and…” and was cut off by the girl saying “Oh! Bill from the fountain?! Yes, we remember you – we’ve just had a staff meeting, and we had a vote, and we’ve renamed the fountain “Bill’s Fountain” in his honour!”.

We’ve all got our favourite Bill stories – from his persistent going down the street in his gardening clothes (much to Mum’s chagrin), and the unorthodox sight in the early 70s of Dad walking their Siamese cat around the block on a leash, through to his penchant for burying bizarrely large sums of small change in the back yard.

I’ve been talking about Dad for 10 minutes now and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. We could talk for hours – and I hope that you will come up and do so afterwards either here or at The Edinburgh – and we’d not stand a chance of covering the life of this unique and extraordinary man.

The morning after Dad’s passing my eyes sprang open at 6:30am and I thought “That tree on the front path needs trimming –we’re going to have a lot of visitors over the next few days!”, so I pulled on my pair of lairy tartan shorts, an I LOVE FIJI shirt, and some lime-green Crocs and went out trimming. Suddenly I stopped and looked at what I was doing, and realized – maybe we weren’t that close, but we’re very, very close.

Bye Dad. We love you, and we will miss you.

Let’s raise a glass to The Gunmakers

Saturday September 6th 2014 was an important day.  I was away at Maltstock in The Netherlands (one of the best whisky festivals on the planet), but my mind was frequently on a little back-street pub in Clerkenwell – The Gunmakers.  For on that day was the farewell party of Jeff, the landlord, having sold the pub on to new owners.

The first I heard about this was in a tweet on August 27th.



Our host & landlord, from about that time

My first visit to the place was the 28th of August 2008: notably, a Sunday, 5 years & 364 days earlier.  For some time I’d been following a number of beer blogs, and the first I’d check would be Stonch’s Beer Blog.  The author held forth a wide range of opinions (the blog closed in 2010 [EDIT: and reopened in Oct 2014!]), among which were the day to day musings of someone managing a London pub, and given his dedication to quality cask beer it seemed an excellent place to try to find and visit.  Not wanting to cross the streams of blog life and real life, he kept the location of the pub under wraps – however a bit of sleuthing and joining the dots and I found myself with a booking for Sunday lunch.

The Gunnies became my “local” from there onward, and it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride.  For starters, only briefly have I ever lived “locally” (and there’s quite a lot of pubs between Russell Square and Eyre Street Hill), but Jeff had cultivated something quite special there – a Local Pub right in the centre of London which you’d happily cross town to spend the evening at, with an ever changing but reasonably consistent cast of regulars.  There was the daytime crew (including the notorious Peter The Bike, and also the well-dressed Peter The Pint), and then after changeover you’d find Matty Lad, Mothmun, PJ, Rossy, and with luck you’d be treated to an appearance by Whitbread.  Loudly declaring his regular customers to be “Arseholes”, it was almost a badge of honour for Jeff to refer to you as a “key arsehole”.  Or in Daveyhaste’s case, “a stripey shirted arsehole”.  Being from a proper pub background from up north, Jeff seemed driven to make his pub the environment that he’d like to spend time in: almost an extension of his living room (for a time, this was literally the case, too).


I’ve spent a bit of time in such establishments, so I feel qualified to say this: the place really was a masterclass in running a pub.  The staff were always an engaging lot, and stuck around for a decent length of time so you didn’t feel like you were having to remember new faces every week.  Jeff said that he wanted people who were interested in doing a good job, but not the kind of people who had no ambition beyond working in a pub.  In no particular order, there were Holly, Sally, Alex, Neusha, Shalome, Sascha, Leo, Simon, Mulligan (never really figured out if he worked there or was on loan from The Betsey), John, Ferenc, Charlotte, John’O, Eddie, and chefs Quinny, Lara, Sebastien, and Manuela.  And it certainly wouldn’t be uncommon to see any of them back drinking at the Gunnies of an evening (or, in the case of the opening party for Jeff’s new pub – The Finborough Arms – co-opted into working for the night).

Curiously, my Sunday roast there – whilst one of the best Sunday roasts I’d had in London – was the last time they did it: being a Clerkenwell backstreet boozer, there wasn’t much about in the way of foot traffic, so it really was a weekday pub.  Except for when Jeff announced the return of the Sunday roast.  And then its demise 2 weeks later (“I remembered how much I hated opening on weekends”).

Described as a mercurial chap, Jeff wasn’t afraid of making changes to the setup of the pub.  Crisps disappeared from the bar, in favour of Proper bar snacks like nuts and pork scratchings.  One night upon requesting a bag of scratchings, Daveyhaste was informed by Alex that “We don’t sell those any more – Jeff’s decided that they’re vulgar”.  A regular fixture of the menu was the Gunnies Burger, which mysteriously disappeared in favour of more rarefied (and always excellent cuisine).  Gone too was the bowl of chips: a decision which we could never figure out if he’d made on economic grounds, taste & decorum, or just because he liked confounding the ever-insistent patrons… or a mix of the three.


Ever a fan of the food there, many was the night I took people in for a bite and a pint.  And many was the night there was some reason the kitchen wasn’t working.  I’m informed that this was pure bad luck on my part, but there was definitely a string of 4 or 5 consecutive visits that ended this way.  One of which was my introduction of my mate Big Pete to the place, and on that night Jeff was heard to be bemoaning the cost of maintaining the massive espresso machine occupying the entire end of the bar – when he sold maybe 4 or 5 coffees a week.  We suggested maybe getting rid of it, and after some discussion/argument/musing/diversion, Jeff’s eyes lit up and he said, “Do you know what, Jason?  I’m going to sack that thing off!  We never use it anyway!”.  And that was the end of the coffee machine.

19931_466457970690_8115638_nTypically a bustling place, the only three times I’ve served beer in London was at The Gunmakers.  Once was towards the end of a Christmas season evening, where the staff were all busy so Jeff asked me to pull a pint for the chap waiting and some remarks were made about my natural beer-pouring action and the aesthetic attributes of the pint: right up until I passed the beer across to the gentleman, caught the base of the glass on the top of the swan neck, and doused the bar and the left hand side of the gentleman in beer.  Once during one of the sporadic beer festivals I was put in charge of the bar in the back room (much to my bewilderment), but my favourite was one evening whilst I was waiting for Dave to turn up, and Jeff had gone down to the cellar to change over the Guinness keg – leaving Sally to man the bar.  The pub phone rang, and she answered, engaged in some confused dialogue, then with an intense gaze pointed at me and said “You – YOU’RE in charge!”, before high-tailing it down the stairs.  She emerged some minutes later giggling copiously, where followed the landlord, now wearing a dark blue jumper and soaking from hair to waist – it transpired that after fitting the line clamp he’d hauled the empty cask out and caught it on the line, disengaging it and spraying litres of the black stuff all over the cellar.

ws_wall2The primary reason that a pub tenancy earns an obituary this long though is that it was instrumental in what’s been a pivotal life development for me – whilst participating in a Meet The Brewer session hosted by the former community website Qype (where I had the privilege of meeting the nicest bloke in the brewing industry, Andy Moffatt of Redemption), I got talking with a chap called Andy about my love of whisky.  The conversation burgeoned into a plot, and with the blessing of Jeff and the use of his upstairs room (“The VIP suite”), Whisky Squad was formed.  Our beloved home til July 2013, it was brilliant to briefly create a blip on the whisky nerds’ radar where people could reliably turn up to the pub on the first Friday of the month and have access to an incredible range of esoteric whisky, following another Whisky Squad session.  The redevelopment of the upstairs room from its moody plushness into its lighter minimalist incarnation, and then Jeff’s conversion of the “back room” back into a beer garden meant that it was no longer tenable to hold tastings up there – however Jeff’s support, patronage, and occasional words of wisdom were an invaluable part of the formation of our club.  The M.O. of the club’s changed a little, but I’ll never forget the formative sessions – such as making the group stand up and face the back of the room so they couldn’t see what whiskies we’d brought, because we hadn’t thought to wrap the bottles up in paper yet.

gunniesbeersFirst and foremost though, the reason the pub became a Must See on any self-respecting beer nerd’s itinerary was because of the Real Ale.  You could safely try any one of The Gunmakers’ regularly rotating cast of casks and be reassured that this would be a beer in prime condition.  On trips to other pubs joy would turn to anguish as I’d see a beer on that I’d had at the Gunnies, only to taste it and realise that perhaps their cellarkeeping practices weren’t quite on par with what I was used to.  Jeff’s arrangement with his pub company meant that he had a free hand in choosing what beers to stock, which was fantastic for we happy patrons – periodically there’d be regulars and guests, or sometimes it’d be on full rotation.  When we started in there Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and Theakston’s Old Pecuiler were regular fixtures.  Harvey’s Sussex Best featured often, then the Landlord disappeared and we got Purity Mad Goose, or Hopback Summer Lightning.  The lager taps had Staropramen and Guinness, then Meantime Helles became house lager (and signalled the beginning of the endless conversations about how “No, we don’t serve Carling”).  Then the lager taps went altogether, and then against all probablility a massive white Budvar font appeared in the bar corner… to disappear again some time later.  We had plenty of Geordie beers such as Mordue offerings (mmmm… Workie Ticket) and Big Lamp, Double Maxim and Tyne Bank.  Periodically we’d be faced with a lineup completely of London breweries such as London Fields, Redemption, Portobello, Sambrook, Windsor & Eton.  And other times there’d be a round assortment of all sorts – and always excellent.

Almost no visit by people from foreign parts to London was left unmarked by a trip to the Gunnies.  For about 3 years running I managed to convince my office to have our team Christmas dinner there, and 2 of those years we went separately as a group of friends as well.  Friends, or partners in the circle, wouldn’t even bother asking “Which pub?” after a while – for us, the Gunmakers was our Winchester.  In the event of zombie outbreak it’s where I’d definitely want to be – if only in the hope that Whitbread was there and could instruct us on how best to deal with zombies.  Always a convivial joy, whether seated in the Abdomen (the back “room” where you could convince yourself you were in the sun if there wasn’t too much crud on the bit of perspex cover you were under – I never really went out there after the “garden conversion”, TBH), wolfing down a steak in the Thorax (the raised middle section with the comedy 2-step access which caused so many near-concussions on the lintel), or fast & loose conversation and putting the world to rights in the Head (by far the prime seats of the establishment – not least for quickest access to the bar, but also to keep tabs on the assortment of characters coming & going).

There’s so much more I could say, but nobody’s died after all.

So the pub’s still there & we’re keenly waiting to see what the new management will do with the place.  Perhaps it’ll be excellent.  Anything’s possible.  But a chapter has definitely closed.

As to why Jeff’s sold the pub – who knows.  Maybe he got tired of it after 5 years?  Maybe some heavies finally caught up with him after something that happened during his days back as a lawyer in Prague?  Maybe he needed the cash, or maybe he’s selling the pubs to buy a railway station or water works (Monopoly humour).  But the good news is the beer excellence and unmistakable vibe will live on for now down at The Finny.

So, in tribute, it simply leaves me to say…. To the Gunmakers:




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£1000 worth of hair

I may have mentioned in passing (17 or 18 times) that this year I’ve been involved in the Movember charity cause…  So this year’s goal for me was to try to collect £1000 in donations, and to up the stakes a bit and encourage people into donating (because this is the 8th year in a row I’ve done Movember, so the whole moustache thing’s probably wearing a bit thin) I pledged that if I hit this 4-figure sum I would also get my head shaved.

Well, it worked!

On Tuesday night at Whisky Squad I was hovering around the £750 mark and the haircut was looking like a perilous reality, and when I awoke the next morning to see £841 staring at me on my MoSpace the realisation that baldness was now inevitable hit me.  Around Wednesday lunchtime the number ticked over into 4 figures, and so a quick visit to Murdock in Monmouth Street near the office and I’d scored an appointment with London barbering legend – Alex of Murdock Liberty!  No point in going to anyone but the best…

Accompanied by my colleague Jerome Jooste as photographer we high-tailed it down to Liberty’s and into the expert hands of Alex.  The last time I had any sort of drastic haircut was about 1998 when I went from having a mid-back-length Viking-style barnet into something a bit more sensible, and this moment held a similar sort of nervous frisson.  I mean sure, it’s only a haircut, but for a massively hirsute individual such as myself it’s a rare thing to see one’s own scalp.

Alex commenced with the clippering as Jerome buzzed about taking snaps, and Alex’s assistant offered me a drink – “what have you got?”, I enquired nervously (thinking that surely a place of the calibre of Liberty’s wouldn’t proffer me a cup of International Roast Caterer’s Blend with Coffee Mate).  “Juice? Coffee?  Whisky?”. “Whisky!”, I happily asserted, thinking with amusement that it was probably whisky that got me into this predicament.

That probably doesn’t quite sound right – I did Movember last year and was happy to collect a solid total of £644 for the charities that Movember supports: in this case, The Prostate Cancer Charity.  To provide a bit of “value” to the generous donors, my delightful but long-suffering girlfriend Liz helped my to dye my moustache blonde, to then try to dye it purple (Billy Connolly style).  Only we didn’t quite have our preparation down, and the results were somewhat less than spectacular.  Unless you’re a fan of chemical burns.  However because I was quite active with my canvassing (or, “harrassment”, as some might call it) I thought I might have a fallow moustache year in 2011.

I had obviously failed to communicate this to whisky-fuelled idea-smith Darren “The Whisky Guy” Rook, because during a recording of our whisky video podcast thing, Village of the Drammed, he announced to our viewership that he, Billy Abbott and I would all be participating in Movember again, and not wanting to be a wet blanket I figured I was now in.  I didn’t want to bother everyone for more money, but I figured if I could get 100 people to pitch in with a tenner then £1000 was theoretically possible, although statistically unlikely… so offering up a denuded dome to the cause seemed like a decent lark.

I mused upon this while sipping the Glenfiddich 12 year old that the barber had handed me, and thought to myself that had making the grand seemed possible I might have thrown the remains of my bottle of Movember whisky (cask strength 9 year old Glenfarclas – delicious!) into the bag to toast the moment with.

Alex buzzed away with the clippers, providing various progress mohawk variations for our amusement and I watched the folds of my cranium peep into view.  The risk here was that I’d never had this procedure done, and some people have heads not designed for display purposes.  My brother Tim had his head shaved after being the owner of a fine set of dreadlocks for some time, which he used to tie back to stop them flagellating his face every time he turned to answer a question.  The constant localised pressure on his scalp resulted in some very peculiar folding and once de-forested it resembled one of those foldy dogs (is it a sharpei?)… what if that wasn’t the dreadlocks?!  What if it was a genetic predisposition?  I didn’t remember feeling many scalp-folds on hair-washing outings (well, innings), but it’s one of those things you probably don’t pay close attention to.

The hair piled up on the floor and the sight that greeted me was vaguely reminiscent of my 14 year old self – back when competititve amateur swimming was one of the things that kept me busy and a low-hydro-drag haircut seemed important – only… errm… expanded & detailed. And with a dirty great mo on the front. Thankfully there were none of the weird ridges my brother had to contend with, and as Alex stowed his clippers and reached for the straight razor my gratitude at the lack of foldyness was doubled.

Beginning on a small patch at the top it was amazing to see how much difference there is between a Number 1 shave and a razor shave.

The concentration in the room intensified, as Alex set to on my melon with his straight razor, and my eyes followed Jerome around as he snapped away, getting ready to bark a “get out of the way!” should Alex want to move to where he was standing. Being the consummate professional though Jerome nimbly dodged out of the way as appropriate and the gradual follicular cropping continued apace.

In what seemed a fairly short time the operation was complete, and being the master razor-wielder that he is, Alex had only inflicted one tiny nick on the vast lunar expanse of my noggin. Amusingly, a fellow customer had arrived with a massive mop of hair, demanding an urgent wash & style for a film shoot – he’d brought his own conditioner too… not a consideration I’d be having to make for a good while now. Again, being the consummate professional that he is, Alex didn’t register even a modicum of malevolence although surely he must have been thinking of the joy in dispensing a head shaving to that little oik as well.

And with that, we were done! And what a weird feeling it is. To start with, because of the balms and whatnot that had been used in the process my skin felt incredibly fragile and cold, and to touch it had the texture of a Vietnamese cold roll. And speaking of cold – when people have helpfully suggested the need for a beanie, they’re not kidding! Not even in the comparative mildness of this year’s London winter. It’s remarkable how sensitive it all is, and I can actually feel the heat radiating out of the fluro-tubes in the office. I haven’t explored in any detail yet, but I believe you can now see the little scar on the back of my head from when I was bitten by a chihuahua at the ripe old age of 2. Errm, I mean, great white pointer shark. Not chihuahua.

So it only remains for me to once again thank everyone who’s offered donations and support for this lunacy. It’s still possible to make a donation if you’d like – I think the page remains open until some time in December. Thanks to everyone who’s donated whatever they could: I know there was a bit of jockeying to be the one who tipped me over the £1k mark, but when you think about it, EVERY donation pushed me over the £1k mark. It’s good to know I’m surrounded by caring people who both care deeply about prostate cancer research, AND who want to facilitate me making myself look a tit.

Big ups also to the rest of the Whisky4Movember team, in particular the instigator of it all – Darren Rook. Without his expert interference, there wouldn’t be an idiot walking around today looking like a former Victorian circus strongman who’d let himself go and gotten an office job. The team’s fundraising total so far stands at £2452, which smashes last year’s achievement for this excellent cause.

Also props to the team at Master of Malt for their support, and for joining our Whisky4Movember Network (along with the other whisky teams we’ve got on board) – bringing our entire group total to £9150 so far, which I think is a staggering effort.

Now, to see about getting this scalp-tattoo of a treasure map that I’ve always wanted…

The full gallery of shots from the afternoon can be found on Flickr for your viewing pleasure.

That bwessed awwangement. That dweam wivin a dweam.

There’s a chap in South Australia by the name of Ryan (pictured – yes, he’s just a floating head), who I’ve known since I was about 4 years old, and who is a bit of an expert at putting words next to each other.

Recently he posted the following stuff on Facebook, and I thought it was so well expressed that the best thing to do would be to share it here as a sort of guest-post.

It should be fairly clear, but I’ll explain anyway because it feels like a cop-out if I don’t write some sort of introduction: Ryan recently contacted his local member for Federal Parliament, Jamie Briggs MP (Lib – South Australian seat of Mayo), and what follows is the exchange of messages on the topic of Marriage Equality.

As an atheist with libertarian socialist leanings I support Ryan’s side of the discussion, not only because  I believe that the Australian Government’s policy of not allowing same-sex marriage is a massive vote-buying exercise, but also because I’m terrified of ever getting into an argument with Ryan.

So, here we go…

I sent this mail, recently, to a bunch of politicians, via this helpful website: http://www.australianmarriageequality.com/wp/

Dear Jamie Briggs and other parliamentary representatives,

On the issue of marriage equality.

I find the current government stance on the issue to be a clear denial of the separation of church and state. Regardless of the obvious discrimination issues, I think this fact alone is a startling indication of just how backward some of our system of law still is.

Please support marriage equality

And he replied!

Dear Ryan,

Thank you for taking the time to share your views regarding the legalisation of same sex marriages.

In 2004, the Coalition amended the Marriage Act 1961 to define in legislation the common understanding in our community of marriage –“the union of man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

This definition does not, in any way, seek to prevent or discourage people from entering into same sex relationships, but to recognise marriage as one of the bedrock institutions of society, which is the basis for forming families and which is underpinned by tradition.

I would not support legislative amendments that alter the status of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Thank you once again for sharing your views on this matter.

Yours sincerely,


Then I replied!

Dear Jamie,

Thanks for your reply. I must say, however, that I find it utterly insufficient as a reason for your stance against marriage equality.

If I may quote you, in relation to the 2004 amendment to the marriage act: “This definition does not, in any way, seek to prevent or discourage people from entering into same sex relationships, but to recognise marriage as one of the bedrock institutions of society, which is the basis for forming families and which is underpinned by tradition.”

In this one sentence you plainly state that, in your view, people in same sex relationships (which you kindly allow to exist) have no place in this “bedrock” institution of society, or in families, or in Australian tradition. This is precisely the “obvious discrimination” to which I was referring in my original mail.

Your reply contains no reasoning, it is simply a statement of prejudice.

If I might rephrase my original mail as a multiple choice question:

Given that marriage is an institution not only of the Church (whose discrimination against same sex couples is clear), but of the State, the Australian government is either:

a) Not truly separate from the Church. Or,

b) Itself openly discriminating against same-sex couples.

As far as I can tell, at least one of these statements must be true.

I thank you again for your response, and I urge you to respond again, addressing this, the core contradiction in the current policy, as I am yet to find a valid reason for its continued existence.


See how I remain polite. I didn’t use the word ‘cunt’ even once. This is because I really want him to write me back. So we’ll see.

And there’s more!

Dear Ryan,

Thanks for your response.

I understand you have a different view and it is a perspective I understand.  However the view of the Liberal Party is that marriage, at law, should remain between a man and a woman.  I understand you disagree with that position.

All my best,


Well that’s a whole pile of nothing, let’s re-rephrase the question, shall we? And let’s make it perfectly clear this time.

Dear Jamie,

Thanks again. It’s good to know that you’re interested, and that you understand my perspective. I, sadly, can not understand your perspective, or, I should say, that of your party.

The reason I can’t understand your party’s perspective is that you give no me reasons, you merely state, repeatedly, what it is. To me, it is a clearly prejudiced view; it is an open statement of discrimination. If discrimination against homosexuality is the policy of the Liberal party, all is clear, but I don’t believe it is. At least, I don’t believe you would tell me it is.

Gay people work, pay taxes, raise families, serve in the military, and abide by the same laws as every other person in our society. They are not afforded the same rights as everyone else in our society. I have offered what I believe to be the possible reasons for this, ie: That the Australian government is subject to the Christian church, or the Australian government wishes to discriminate against gay people.

So far you have neither confirmed nor denied either reason, or offered any reasons of your own. The only conclusion I can reasonably draw is that there is no reason. This discrimination is completely arbitrary; as arbitrary as denying marriage rights to Atheists, or the unemployed, or the elderly, or Aboriginal people.

Of course, there is quite a practical reason for holding the stance you do: That your party kowtows to bigots. Albeit at the expense of the basic human rights of a blameless minority. A minority, I might add, whose defining actions harm no one, and whose right to marry would adversely affect no one.

That’s pretty ugly, in this day and age, don’t you think?

Thanks, Jamie, for your continued correspondence. I really appreciate it. I urge you to respond with some kind of logical, or moral stance on this issue. I sincerely hope there is a stance, as the alternative, that my government institutionalises bigotry, is really too revolting to contemplate.


Come on Jamie, grow a pair! I promise I won’t get turned on by your big, hairy balls, if that’s what you’re worried about.

Hey hey! He grew some! They are hirsute and magnificent.


Thanks again.

It is unlikely that you are ever going to accept our position and I understand that.  However, the position is not discriminatory in fact previous forms of discrimination against same sex couples were removed by the previous government.  What this is about is a change to the historic definition of marriage, that is something the Liberal Party does not agree with.  It is not about ‘kowtowing’ to ‘bigots’ at all rather it’s maintaining a consistent view on what the word marriage represents in our society.

Again, I understand these reasons are unacceptable to you.  I understand and appreciate your position and I do not seek to change it, rather I am explaining the Liberal Party position on any proposed change.

All my best,


Aaaaaand back in I go…

Dear Jamie,

Thank you, yet again, for taking the time to reply, and thanks, especially, for stating a case on this issue.

To refer firstly to the end of your mail, I am thankful that you understand my position, and grateful that you don’t seek to change it. Under normal circumstances I would happily afford you the same courtesy, but unfortunately you are my political representative, and thus it is precisely your position that I am seeking to change. Such is life, in this democracy-thing.

So, it turns out that the Liberal party does in fact have a stance on the issue of marriage equality, that being: They do not agree with “a change to the historic definition of marriage,” and are all for “maintaining a consistent view on what the word marriage represents in our society.”

This feels like progress, Jamie, and I like it. Now, if I may, I would like to present my counter-claim to the Liberal party’s (let’s call it) ‘historical preservation’ defence.

My counter-claim would go something like this: Some history is worth preserving, and some isn’t. I’d like to add that, historically, much of the history that we, as a nation, have chosen not to preserve has been the out-dated and discriminatory dogma in our system of law. I feel that the current stance on marriage equality is destined to be left behind also. To me, it is what our American friends refer to as ‘a no-brainer’.

You’ve kindly reminded me that “previous forms of discrimination against same sex couples were removed by the previous government,” which is true. Indeed, it is admirable. Those previous forms of discrimination were removed, but, sadly, this current form of discrimination has not.

You state also that the current position is not discriminatory, and here I’m afraid I must disagree with you. Clearly you recognise the need to eradicate discrimination against same-sex couples, in fact you state it as a point of pride. If we look back at the wording of the act in question, though, which states that marriage is “the union of man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others,” how on earth can you reach any other conclusion than: this is discrimination?

I honestly do believe that you, and other members of your party would never actively pursue a prejudiced policy. I think you’re simply allowing a prejudiced policy to remain in place, because you’d rather not handle such a hot potato, and there are too many voters on both sides of the fence to risk offending either party. I guess I can’t blame you for that. Much.

This historical preservation defence rings a little too convenient to be true, in that regard. On any other topic, if you told me that “maintaining a consistent view on what the [insert any other issue here] represents in our society,” matters more than the equality of the Australian people, I wouldn’t believe you then, either.

I can imagine a Northern Territory politician in 1975 explaining to a member of his electorate that his party does not wish to discriminate against Aboriginals, but that they wish to maintain a consistent view on what land rights represent in our society.

I can imagine a Queensland politician in 1921 explaining to a member of his electorate that his party simply wishes to maintain a consistent view on what the death penalty represents in our society.

Likewise, I can imagine a South Australian politician in 1893 explaining to a member of his electorate that his party does not wish to discriminate against women, but that they wish to maintain a consistent view on what voting represents in our society.

I’m sure you are aware that in 1894, on the issue of voting rights for women, South Australia led the world. This is a point of pride for our state, and I’m sure it is presented as such to every student in every South Australian school. It was to me, and so it should be for ever more. Our state was a vanguard for simple human rights and equality under the law, one hundred and seventeen years ago.

If you’ll indulge me a moment longer, I’d like you to imagine living in 1890, as a man, and voting in the state election. I’d like you to imagine discussing, and debating your vote with other voters, in the presence of, perhaps, your wife, or mother, or sister, or a female friend, and how that might feel.

Then imagine, if you’re still with me, being a heterosexual, white male, as I am, and being the Best Man at your best mate’s wedding, as I was. I stood next to my great friends, in a perfect place on a perfect day, the celebrant started speaking and I looked out at the congregation. I thought, firstly: I can’t believe nothing has gone wrong yet, and secondly: I can’t believe how lucky we are, surrounded by our friends, both single and coupled, straight and gay, some married, some not. Then the celebrant said this, as she is required to by law: “Australian law defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

At that moment everything shifted, just a bit, as it was made clear that this particular celebration of love and friendship is not for all of us, not according to the government. It was a sad moment. Some shuffled their feet, some glanced around, some made a concerted effort to do neither, and then we all moved on.

It may seem like an insignificant thing, and I know that to many it is, but please believe me, for all of us there then, and for hundreds of thousands of Australians, it’s not. No legal wedding can take place without those words being spoken, and those words amount to this: Our government insists that it is fair, and right, and necessary that, in this regard, gay people should be treated differently to anybody else. This is a statement of discrimination, demanded by our government, traditional though it may be.

I think about that every time I read a statistic on bullying, or assault, or suicide rates, or listen to yet another chapter in this ridiculous, circuitous debate that we continue to engage in now. If our government says it is necessary to treat gay people differently to anybody else, in even one way, then how can we ever fix this?

Thanks, again, for your patience and attention. I look forward to your reply.


My brain-mouth is tired! At least I know, even if he doesn’t reply, that I’ve said just about EVERY CONCIEVABLE THING I could possibly say on the matter. Actually, that’s not true. I could go on and on and on.


And he’s replied again. I want Jamie to get gay married to ME.

Dear Ryan,

Thank you for your further email.

You have articulated a very strong argument, in a passionate and considered manner which does make me think hard about this issue.  I can only say again that our policy remains what I articulated in previous emails.  There is no proposal before the Parliament to change that at the present time.  However I imagine that in the future there will be and these perspectives will need to be considered in consideration of our position.

I continue to think about this debate and I appreciate the fact you have put to me information that challenges my current position.

Please stay in touch.


Goodnight, sweet Liberal, goodnight.


The biggest bong known to man


Woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!  Y’know sometimes when you do something which is just straight-out cool, and you know you’re gonna remember for the rest of your life?  Well, that!

I read on the HIGHLY EXCELLENT “Ian Visits” blog that it’s possible to arrange to take a tour of the Clock Tower at the Houses of Parliament, and that sounded to me like a fine and excellent thing to do so – following the instructions – I contacted my local Member for Parliament and made the relevant request (the instructions are here: more info below).  A month or 2 later I recevied an email back asking me if I had any preference for dates in November, and soon enough the date was upon us!  As you’d expect, on the morning of the tour I went scrabbling around my room to find the letter detailing the meeting place and time, and proceeded to tear the place apart in the process of discovering the “safe and memorable place” I’d put it.

Sadly, no photographs are allowed on the tour – the tourguide’s assistant assertively if somewhat ethereally insisted that this was for security reasons – so I can’t share with you the view down the narrow stairwell, taking in the 334 steps, or the Victorian mechanism – still calibrated to 2/5 of a second using Old English Pennies, or the 4 chime bells and that massive 13.5 tonne Great Bell.

The tour was fascinating, as you’d hope, and during a quiet moment I learned that the tour guide climbs to the top 3 times a day.  I also managed to get her to confess that when she goes on holiday it’s typically to places like Holland – no point climbing up things in your spare time, I guess.

The mechanism is purely mechanical, and as we heard & saw it working away at the quarter-to-the-hour point it was quite strange to actually see Victorian-era clockworks in action.  There was the sort of amount of ratcheting, clunking and clattering you’d expect but which you rarely see in this day and age as everything gets replaced by electronics.  Nevertheless, the clock is maintained by a team of clockmakers – who get extremely narrow windows of opportunity to do any maintenance work!  Typically it’s during the hour changeovers at daylight saving.

I was extremely impressed with the reliability and accuracy of the thing – they just never stop it.  There’s been points in history where things have caused it to stop, but in terms of system uptime the numbers are pretty damn impressive.  One episode the lady told us about was when the fly fans (whose air-resistance provides braking for the descent of the weight driving the chime train) failed, and rather than chiming in a controlled manner the weight just dropped with gravity acceleration, which caused half of the chiming mechanism to hop out of its cradle and distribute itself in pieces around the mechanism room.  Luckily it happened at 3am and nobody was in there.

Another time-losing incident happened one day when a group of 50 starlings simultaneously landed and perched on the minute hand, and their weight caused resistance on the hand mechanism.  They were moved on by the charmingly British method of a man opening the inspection panel on the clock face, and threateningly waving a broom at them.  Probably shouted “Shoo! Shoo!” quite menacingly too, I should think.

Moving upstairs to the bell platform we took in some excellent views of London, before inserting earplugs and witnessing the chiming of the Westminster Chimes.  The guide advised us to touch one of the metal beams to get some sense of the vibration resonating through the structure.  As the 16 chimes rang out you could certainly feel the metal buzzing, and follow the chimes around the 4 bells as they went off in sequence.

Then there was a slight pause, and I thought to myself – “Wow, that was intense”, nearly forgetting that the Great Bell was to now strike the hour.  The massive central hammer moved slightly, and then struck.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at this point: the sound of Big Ben chiming the hour is a distinctive and iconic note – a slightly flattened E with a hint of twang thanks to the hairline crack, and one to which I’m surprised to say it’s possible to grow accustomed to the longer you live here.  But as that hammer struck for the second time it occurred to me that there I was – standing right next to the source of that monumental sound, recognised the world over.  The hammer retreated to striking position and rang the third & final hour strike. BONGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t describe anything quite like it – a real mix of thoughts was swimming around my head, partially about the sheer volume & power of the sound (which took quite some time to stop vibrating), and partially wonderment at the idea that an insignificant computer programmer from Adelaide had somehow manipulated events such that he was standing next to the most recognised clock in the world at 3pm on November 19th.  I took my earplugs out, and as the resonance faded off it was hard not to imagine that it was in fact the sound of that chime echoing off into the distance to the edges of visible London.

Slightly head-spinning from this moment we then did a quick tour through the clock’s four faces.  The opalescent glass is now apparently irreplaceable, and also quite fragile, and the ironwork comprising the Neo-Gothic face decoration (designed by Augustus Pugin) looks quite spindly.  My upcoming visit to Prague perhaps had the idea of defenestration rolling around in my brain, and I wondered if anybody had ever tried to jump out through one of the faces.  It made sense though that the ironwork would prevent it – certainly by the way the guide was standing on the ledge with her back to the face suggested that she wasn’t concerned about her safety.

Returning to the bottom of the stairs we passed through the tunnel and back into neighbouring Portcullis House, and on our merry way.  I was quietly pleased that such an icon of British and then by extension global importance was subject to the same sort of ineptitude that features in the rest of the Houses of Parliament – I loved the fact that due to the tower not being finished at the time, they tested the first bell at ground level.  When it cracked (they were using heavier, and heavier hammers in order to get the tone to the E Natural that Edmund Beckett Denison so craved), the bell was broken down and a second one cast.  By the time the second bell was cast the tower was ready, so 8 men took 30 hours to haul it up the top, and after the clock mechanism was put in place they started testing the bell & hammer weight, whereupon the 2nd one cracked!  By now it was too late to lower the bell, so they just went with it – hence the “distinct” tone.

Equally I thought it was indicative of the sorts of men they were that the mechanism’s designer, Edward John Dent, doesn’t have his name commemorated in any of the clock parts.  He died prior to the project finishing, and his son Frederick Dent completed the clock, and therefore had his name immortalised on the iron framework.

I suppose my favourite fact of the day was that the BBC used to broadcast the chiming of Big Ben live around the world at the strike of noon, 6pm, and midnight – the rules changed though when there was a team of maintenance builders carrying tools and materials up and down, and during the midday chiming one of the men dropped something on his foot or thumb and let fly with a loud swear word which, due to the sensitivity of the BBC microphones, was broadcast live to all corners of the Empire.  It was the “f***” that was heard around the world.

In order to arrange a tour, UK residents must write to their local MP with a request.  This seems to take a couple of months to process.  The tours don’t cost anything, and are open to UK residents.  My understanding is that tourists aren’t allowed to do the tours.  The official website with instructions and information is found at: http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visitingandtours/bigben.cfm

This whole “hankywaving” malarkey – what’s all that about?


If I was to ever write a personal FAQ – other than the sort of mock-humorous 20-questions style FAQ which adorned previous incarnations of this internet resource – one of the definite contenders would be “[expression of enquiry involving various degrees of astonishment] made you get into morris dancing?”.  Examples:

“How’d you get into morris dancing?”

“What in the world got you involved in morris dancing?”

“But you’re Australian – why the bloody hell are you doing that ridiculous thing?”

and so on.

So, for the record, the way it happened was this:

In 1989 at the tender and impressionable age of 13 I joined the backstage crew of the Adelaide Gang Show.  Why the hell I did that still remains a mystery.  I think I was too shy to join the cast, but thought it’d be fun to get on board.  Whatever.  Anyway, during show week one of the sketches was about morris dancing – a load of blokes in flowery hats and baldrics stood in a long line and said some unlikely things in terrible Zummerzet accents, and there were 2 dances to some apple-cheeked English tunes; one of which involed hankywaving and the other bashing sticks together (complete with Ted Wilkins and the running joke of him dashing offstage to get bigger and bigger sticks, until he took stage with a hockey stick and armour).

Fast forward now to early 2003, when I decided that the only thing better than living in a house with ludicrously cheap rent was to share it with someone and thereby pay half as much again, and managed to convince Mike to occupy one of the spare bedrooms.  Mike was, at the time (and it seems, once again), the Squire of the Adelaide Morris Men, and would periodically disappear for the day in white shirt & trousers & black top hat (a sort of quasi-Clockwork Orange getup).  The sort of thing where I’d say “What you up to this weekend mate?”, and he’d reply, “Oh I’m off morris dancing”, at which I’d nod wistfully, safe in the knowledge that I only had a distant & vague idea of what that involved.

It must’ve been around January 2004, when I was preparing for my imminent departure to live in the UK – I’d severed each weeknight commitment I had, and in the interests of saving a few bucks was spending more time around the house than previously.  Mike, ever the astute fellow, noticed this and launched into the now pivotal exchange:

Mike: I’ve noticed that you’re not busy on Thursday nights at the moment.  I therefore put it to you that you should come to morris dancing practice.

Me: Now Michael, why in the hell would I be doing a thing like that?

Mike: Well, there’s a number of reasons really…

  1. It’s good fun.
  2. It’s good exercise.
  3. They’re a good fun bunch of lads.
  4. They don’t mind a pint – which I’ve noticed is an area you’re more-than-casually interested in.
  5. You’re leaving the country, so if you hate it there’s an easy get-out clause.
  6. It’s a new skill, and learning things keeps the brain active.
    But I guess most importantly…
  7. You have a car, and I need a lift to practice.

Unfortunately, being a fairly logical fellow I couldn’t find a fault with any of that, so I went along.  Though I can’t profess to being particularly good at it, or a fast learner, it was pretty good fun – and in March 2004 I went on my first public danceout at the Moot Yang Gunya Festival in Mundulla, SA.  I didn’t have baldricks or anything, so just had white shirt & trousers and some borrowed bellpads.  It was a top event, and the crowd really seemed to get into it.  The men were a little short-handed, so they put me in a couple of dances which weren’t in my “ready to be danced outside the practice hall” list, and finished off the day with a dance I’d never seen before – the famous “Vandals of Hammerwich”, which the guys said “don’t worry, it’s not hard – we’ll talk you through as you go!”.  And I reckon we broke about 6 sticks in that one.  Great fun – woodchips flying everywhere, and an appreciative crowd all supporting my maiden voyage.


Upon landing in London it occurred to me that I didn’t know anyone, so I figured it made sense to see what was around in terms of morris dancing, and fortuitously there were a couple of teams in easy distance from where I was staying.  Contacting the first – the Westminster Morris Men – I learned that it was their final practice for the year, but they were having their annual Day of Dance on the Saturday, and I was welcome to come and watch.  It was quite a spectacle, with over a hundred morris men in Trafalgar Square – certainly more than I’d ever seen before!  I also checked out the Hammersmith Morris Men (aka The Smiffs), who were also great fun & a top bunch of lads.

Something drew me back to the Westminster lads though, and they very accommodatingly let me tag along on some of their country trips in my white gear, and let me join in to the farewell dance at every spot, Bonny Green Garters.

And I’ve been with them ever since!  They’ve been incredibly patient with me, and there’s a rumour going around that my dancing’s now fit to be seen in public…

It really is top fun – not just for the reasons Mike outlined back in Adelaide (although 5 and 7 are less relevant over here): we also do some pretty cool stuff, like all the weekend trips away to bits of Britain I’d probably have never seen had I just remained a tourist.  We have an annual weekend in The Cotswolds, a bi-annual trip to Devizes (in Wiltshire), occasional trips up to Chester, and then there’s been various other one-offs, such as our Gloucestershire tour, Southwold (Suffolk), Exeter, Eastbourne, Dartington, Ripley, Saddleworth

Probably the one event that stars in the photo album would be the time that we were booked to perform at a garden party at Lambeth Palace for the Archbishop of Canterbury.


A close second though would be the Westminster Day of Dance – which I’ve somehow been jostled into position as the organiser for for the last 2 years – and the opportunity to put on our kit and dance at some of London’s most famous landmarks, such as Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Chinatown, St James’s Park and Westminster Cathedral.

Intriguingly, one of the things which initially drew me to the whole thing was that it felt like the most ludicrous thing a bunch of blokes could do together.  Some of the dance moves seem really silly, which impresses me immensely (my favourite is called a “galley”, which sort of looks like an Arnold Rimmer salute, but using the foot).  After now having been at it for 5 years though my giggling has mostly subsided, and now that I know several dances well enough to not have to concentrate intently on each the puerile chortle has been replaced with a sense of attention to detail & doing one’s best to work in symphony with the other dancers in the set – you can just tell when you’ve nailed a dance, and it’s a real buzz when audience members come over and compliment you.  One of my favourite dances ever was the Longborough-style dance, “Loveless”, which I recorded in Thaxted earlier this year – to me it just looks beautiful, with straight lines throughout and coordinated hand movements.  The lads did a great job, I reckon!

I’m still very much in contact with the Adelaide Morris Men – I pop in to practice whenever I’m back home for a visit, and they came over for a tour of the UK in 2005, and are currently in the final planning stages of another tour in 2010 which we’re all looking forward to immensely.

So it doesn’t really make a hell of a lot of sense, but I genuinely love it.  Though it’s frustrating, exhausting, and seems to take up bizarrely large amounts of my time, joining a morris dancing side is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in the last decade.  You get bizarre looks from strangers, prospective girlfriends screw their faces up in puzzlement, and the British press seem to have a constant campaign afoot to get it abolished because they haven’t got the imagination to respond to it in any way other than derision.  But I’m crap at tennis, and besides, the music’s nicer.


(incidentally, credit where credit’s due – the first photo in this post was taken by the immensely talented James Bartosik, and the last photo by media genius Simon Hepworth)

2006-01-30 : If I had a hammer…

Tolerance is a beautiful and commendable thing. There should be more of it – if there were I’m sure the world would be a better place. However we’re never going to reach such an ideal & placid utopian existence so long as the British Government fail to send out teams of exterminators to rid to world of bloody DAWDLERS, SPREADERS, STOPPERS and SWITCHERS.

At the risk of infringing on Oli‘s sacred blogging material, I cannot go another day without underlining my contempt for these 4 subgroups of the pedestrian kingdom.

Dawdlers: They just wander along at their own pace, oblivious to the fact that there’s other people around them. They seem similarly oblivious to the fact that the laws of composition of matter apply to them and as they are solids (rather than gases or liquids) they occupy a volume in space and other solids cannot (easily, without fear of recrimination) pass through them. The dawdler is most often found on London Underground platforms making their tedious & ponderous progress towards the light. I sometimes wish LU would install tube barriers that required some kind of minimum exit velocity in order to pass through so that dawdlers could be forced to hurry up. But of course LU are seemingly incapable of running the simple version of the ticket gate – I’d hate to impose complications on them.

Spreaders: Spreaders take dawdling to a new level. They customarily work in groups, although sometimes the really proficient ones work solo. They amble along like there’s nowhere to be, but in addition they spread themselves out horizontally so that no other bastard can get past. Their typical habitat seems to be Camden High Street, or any other stretch of pavement that I seem to be trying to progress along lately. Solo spreaders are somehow able to pick the optimum trajectory to take down a corridor so that there’s not quite room on either side to pass by.

Stoppers: The most unforgiveable scum sucking filth in the Underground are not the rats or mice, but the idiots who exit a train carriage onto a platform loaded with moving people and then stop dead still while they work out where they need to go. Often they’re carrying drag-behind suitcases or cellos – real experts can stop and gawp at the wall in such a way that the entire platform’s obstructed. Of course it’s difficult on a crowded platform, but surely human instinct can allegorise the tube platform to a river ? The fastest current’s out in the middle and the best place to stop is over at the bank ? Stoppers are insidious, because you often won’t see them coming – they’ll start surging forward (and thus marking themselves as not-a-dawdler), and then an idea will pop into that great empty bonce, and BANG! Dead stop.

Switchers: Anyone who’s ever driven along beside a hopping kangaroo knows how hazardous a thing that is, because they’ll suddenly decide to hop across the path of your car, but due to the speeds involved you’ll typically hit them. Switchers should therefore be forced to don tall pointy ears so that we at least know to look out for them. Switchers are the ones who don’t do a quich shoulder check first – they just career off in a different direction without any warning. Seriously, ever since my 2nd time driving (at the age of 17, when I nearly forced a guy out into oncoming traffic on Fullarton Road and almost made my Mum say a swear word) I’ve given a quick checking glance over my shoulder to see what’s behind me before changing direction, be it on foot, in car, flying gliders, swimming – you name it ! The above-ground variety of the switcher typically comes with a mobile phone stuck to their ear, and this typically guarantees that their head is pointing away from the direction they intend to travel in.

It’s not particularly uncommon – especially with Switchers and Stoppers – to go crashing into the back of them. What gets me *every* time is the phrase that comes out of their mouths when it happens. Trust me, I’ve run into a few people over my life, and it’s no word of a lie when I tell you they have *all* said the same thing.


The merits of having a chauffeur are fast becoming apparent to me.

2004-04-06 : Night of the Screaming Livers

Whooooa boy oh boy oh boy – what a way to go, eh ?

In order to get rid of my fairly extensive collection of Scotch, I decided to get a few people who have a deep & moving love for the stuff around to my place, as well as a few choice nibbles, and just let everyone try as much of whatever they wanted as was available.(Click here for larger photo)

The assembled whiskies were a fairly imposing visage – initially I was worried that there wasn’t going to be enough, and was semi-seriously considering going to acquire another last minute bottle. Lucky I didn’t however, because we were left with 3 half-bottles. Not a bad effort, by anyone’s measure. There were 12 of us, and about 13 bottles in various stages of decay.

Kev was quite amazed at the different flavours one could achieve in such a drink – it’s very much like wine & beer in that regard. Truth be known, I can recognise many more differences between whiskies than I can with wines !

It was also handy to have Glyn on hand, as he’s been collecting and drinking whiskies for many years now, and was able to impart much knowledge to those present. There again, he could have just been talking bollards – we wouldn’t have known any better really…

As I was supplying the liquid for the evening, I put it to my fellow participants to bring food, and between them they assembled quite an awesome variety of cheeses – on par with the whiskey selection ! Looking at all the labels on them made me feel like I was in the midst of a Monty Python sketch!

I’d like to thank those who came for an excellent night, commiserate the ones who couldn’t make it, and apologise to the people I couldn’t invite due to lack of room. The Goodwood Road Bruhaus was fairly closely packed that night.

In retrospect it’s probably just as well that I put a 2 week interval between Scotchtoberfest and my next party – I think by the time the 16th rolls around I may just be up to drinking again.

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